Portland needs cleaner transit, but electrification isn’t the answer

Guest Opinion in the July 13, 2018, Oregonian 

Jessica Vega Pederson is right: it is time for Tri-Met to continue its tradition as a leader in our community by eliminating their diesel fleet (“Portland needs TriMet to prioritize electric buses,” July 4). Unfortunately, she and many others get it wrong on how to get it done. Relying on overpriced and underperforming electric bus technology will only set us back in our goal of eliminating harmful diesel emissions. We should refocus on natural gas-powered buses, and explore operating those buses on recovered methane — called ‘renewable natural gas’ — from Portland’s wastewater treatment facility (“Portland plans to turn ‘poop to power,” April 20).

There is no way around it: Oregon has a diesel problem. Transportation is Oregon’s largest source of greenhouse gas emission. Diesel-powered trucks and buses make up a third of the on-road transportation emissions. Not only do these emissions harm our region’s climate goals, but they are toxic pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, and many dangerous health conditions. We are all affected by diesel pollution, but especially the most vulnerable populations of children, elderly and the sick.

The best place to start in solving this problem is by replacing the 700 diesel buses that zigzag through the heart of our metro area. The conversation is already occurring, but it has largely focused on one limiting question: How soon can we electrify the bus fleet?

Los Angeles Metro was faced with this same problem. The LA Basin in the ’90s had some of the worst air quality problems in the world, and their 2,500-diesel bus fleet was a large contributor. Their solution: move to near-zero emission natural gas engines fueled by renewable natural gas, which offers up to 115 percent reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and 99.9 percent air quality pollutant reductions. Their fleet is no longer a significant polluter, and they have saved their customers money on fuel and maintenance costs at the same time. This is a home run, and Portland should take note.

The time to act is now. Every day we wait for electric bus technology to be ready is a day that we make our air quality problems worse. Natural gas buses are proven, affordable and ready to tackle our air quality and climate issues today.

Connor Reiten
Director of Policy and Operations
NW Alliance for Clean Transporation